Saturday 19 January 2019

Neil Francis: Pretty sure it'll be ugly

I’d be happy with horrible game as long as Irish win

LEAFY Marlow – sounds like a rock star’s son. More assuredly it is a sylvan setting in Buckinghamshire. The rugby club was the backdrop for this little vignette.

A clash of culture played out over the centuries. The Celts vs the Saxons. No Celtic invader had ever got so far south, or east. For the purposes of this battle a pig skin was to be introduced.

A charitable occasion required that 30 rugby internationals turn up and be counted. We all pitched up.

The Scottish back row of Finn Calder, Derek White and John Jeffrey – a serious unit in anyone's currency – arrived wearing their England Grand Slam 1990 jerseys to set the tone.

Some English firm had jumped the gun and jammed off about 1,000 of these things. We all know what happened that day. The Scottish squad all received one as a souvenir.

Sweet! Almost as good as winning the slam itself. The redoubtable Brian Moore would referee things that day. Moore, the supreme competitor, is a driven man whose demeanour is quite often misconstrued when he co-commentates on the BBC. He is a good fella, provided he can keep his piranha personality at bay.

However, the thoughts of Moore trying to arbitrate in a rugby match were ludicrous – and so it proved. The match was a competitive but jolly affair, but the aforementioned Scottish back row had begun to revert to type.

The breakdown became a CSI crime scene. Off-side, killing the ball, offside, over the top, offside, hands in the ruck, offside – in fact no onside at all. Moore up to this stage had been calm and cool but needed to be collected by the men in white coats after Jeffrey floated in from the wrong side and was nestling on the ball, ensuring that nobody else could have it. Moore flipped.

He threw his whistle into the crowd and started to ruck Jeffrey out of the breakdown with his boot.

Rucking has been eradicated from the game by the Living Dead in the IRB for six or seven years now. I always preferred to have the option of administering natural justice to someone who decides to kill the ball – because refs aren't bothered really.

The sight of Moore losing his temper brought the house down and gave vent to a microcosm of revenge which, even in an atmosphere of friendliness, manifested itself pointedly.

Scotland had denied England the Grand Slam in 1990. There are a number of things wrong with the way I have phrased that statement.

The first element is the subconscious power of the English media, the blanket of biased reportage gave you the notion that England were the only side capable of winning the Grand Slam that season.

The fact that Scotland had also won all of their matches up to that stage was completely overlooked. It was the last game of the season – a winner-takes-all game – yet the English media had pre-determined that the men in white were the only ones capable or worthy of the Grand Slam.

Literally, and metaphorically, ‘Rose’-tinted glasses. Scotland sent them homewards ‘tae think again’. The second element of the equation was, as a winner, it really hurt Moore to lose that match.

Winning for him was everything. Ireland head to Murrayfield to play Scotland this Sunday. We travel there to resurrect our season. Winning is everything. A triple crown still has meaning and value.

We will travel with vague awareness that Scotland also have to rehabilitate themselves. They must do exactly as we have to do to ourselves – win!

Nobody has taken cognisance of their predicament on this side of the pond. Scotland after their abject performance against Wales have been written off by the Irish media.

There is no question that when they underperform they are lamentable – they don't have the luxury of the top sides who can jam wins playing badly.

When Scotland play badly – they lose. Like their illustrious back row I expect them to revert to type and live on the wrong side of the law.

We won't have a frustrated Brian Moore refereeing – but we do have, for the first time in the 2011 championship, a very good referee in Nigel Owen.


Just not sure if that will be enough. The changes on both sides are not necessarily out of necessity. Ronan O'Gara's selection is noteworthy in the sense that Jonathan Sexton, playing to orders, loses out because Ireland will undoubtedly attempt to play territory against Scotland.

Something that would have made lives easier if they had done it earlier in the campaign. Sexton can play territory, too, but pays a high price for what happened outside him.

Not able to control the game? Didn't vary and mix it up as he should have? Just doing what he was told, I think.

We still have a major schism between how Munster and Leinster play and we have gone back to what Kidney would suggest being a safer type of game.

The ‘Killer Bs’ are back. Johnnie Beattie is Scotland's best player. I don't know why it took so long to get him back into the mix but the infusion of new blood could be a better catalyst for change for Scotland rather than Ireland. This one is going to be ugly and very close. I'll be happy to watch the worst game in rugby history if it means we win.

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